Southern California winds fan wildfires, cut power

LOS ANGELES - Strong winds wreaked havoc on parts of Southern California on Monday, knocking out power, fanning wildfires and forcing highway officials to post warnings for Christmas Day travelers.

Gusts up to 70 mph made it difficult for firefighters to battle a blaze that had grown to about 370 acres by Monday night in mountainous terrain between Santa Paula and Camarillo in Ventura County. Winds also fanned a second fire that broke out late Monday afternoon in a rugged, rocky area of northern Los Angeles County.

The first fire was burning near several communications towers and about 10 scattered ranch houses and outbuildings but had not forced evacuations, said Ventura County Fire Department spokeswoman Sandi Wells.

''It's in a fairly remote area ... the ranches aren't threatened,'' she said.

The fire was reported about 5:15 a.m. and was caused by a downed power line, Wells said. It was 75 percent contained Monday evening, and firefighters hoped to have it fully surrounded by Tuesday morning, she said.

The area is crossed by oil pipelines, but Wells said the fire was not posing a threat to them.

About 280 firefighters were on scene, aided by helicopters and air tankers.

''Last week, the copters were grounded because of the wind,'' Wells said. ''Today the copters are able to fly, and that's very fortunate.''

The second fire broke out about 3:25 p.m. near Acton and burned 65 acres of rocky brush land in about 90 minutes, said Brian Jordan, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The fire was fully contained about 6 p.m. Monday, Jordan said.

Authorities dispatched 45 fire engines to tackle the blaze and an airplane also was dropping fire retardant on the flames. The fire prompted the closure of the Antelope Valley Freeway near Agua Dulce Canyon Road, officials said.

The cause of the blaze was under investigation.

The National Weather Service reported strong Santa Ana winds throughout Southern California on Monday, with gusts reaching more than 70 mph in some mountain and pass areas.

Winds that hit 50 mph in northern Orange County toppled power poles, cutting power to about 25,000 customers in Tustin, Garden Grove, Orange, Santa Ana and Westminster.

About 5,000 customers remained without electricity late Monday morning, Southern California Edison spokesman Paul Klein said. Fewer than 200 were in the dark by 6:30 p.m., and all customers were expected to be back on line Monday night.

High winds are forecast through Tuesday, with breezy conditions expected through Thursday, National Weather Service meteorologist Stuart Seto said.


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